United Way needs your time – and your money

As if a reminder was needed that too many Thurston County residents remain hungry, homeless, poor or sick, more than 600 volunteers joined the United Way’s annual Day of Caring recently. They formed 49 teams and spread out across the county to support our most needy.

But it wasn’t enough.

This year’s symbolic kickoff to Thurston County United Way’s fundraising campaign broke the local record for numbers of participants. That’s terrific, a wonderful expression of compassion.

And if the only thing the United Way needed was our time and elbow grease, Thurston County would be awash in riches.

But they also need our financial support.

It is somewhat surprising that charitable giving in Thurston County has been relatively stable during the recession. Individuals and businesses are still struggling with the lingering effects of the recession and tightening their belts to survive.

In other areas, this has meant fundraising declines of 20 percent or more.

But community giving to Thurston County United Way in 2011 matched the pre-recession campaign total of 2006, indicative of South Sounders’ support for nonprofits and awareness that the needs of lower income families and individuals have increased.

United Way raised $1.3 million last year in the South Sound, all of it devoted to improving lives and strengthening our community, as it has done since 1936.

It needs to raise more this year, because the organization is still feeling the recessionary pinch. While local giving is flat, income from state and federal funds, as well as grants from private or corporate foundations, has dropped by 75 percent during that same period.

Recognizing that new reality, the Thurston County United Way has dramatically shifted how it serves the South Sound community. It has moved from the conventional charitable-giving model of the old “Community Chest” – collecting contributions and distributing them to worthy community projects – to an impact-focused organization.

Today’s United Way connects people with projects for which they have a particular passion and energy. It places hundreds of volunteers into positions where they can help children learn to read, or support food banks or take on one-on-one mentorships through Big Brothers Big Sisters.

According to Executive Director Paul Knox, the organization has chosen to focuses on education, income and health, which he says are the building blocks for a good quality of life.

“Creating a healthy, prosperous community affects us all, not just those who are less fortunate,” he says. “We all win when a child succeeds in school, when families are able to stay in their homes and when everyone has access to the health care they need.”

It’s true. Everyone knows someone who has run into temporary hard times. Without a strong network of community organizations to help people through difficult periods in their lives, the whole South Sound suffers that little bit more.

The most common method of donating to the United Way is through the 150 or so workplace campaigns conducted each year throughout Thurston County. Employees contribute through payroll deductions to any or all nonprofits supported by United Way, and employers also make contributions, sometimes matching their workers’ generosity.

This is a good year to donate more time or money to United Way, and thereby support organizations of local people fighting domestic violence, providing free health care or growing food for people in poverty.